In the entirety of director Martin Scorsese’s diverse filmography few of his pictures stand out quite like “The King of Comedy”. It’s a tough movie to grasp with its peculiar tone and unbridled cynicism. It’s a movie filled with undesirable characters and we are left with practically no emotional connection to any of them. Yet, despite all of these apparent issues and conflicts, I found myself glued to this offbeat bit of satire.
So I said ‘undesirable’ but for the film’s main character Rupert Pupkin that may be a tad harsh. Despite being delusional, obsessive, and a bit creepy there is a sympathetic quality to Pupkin. Similar to Scorsese’s Travis Bickle from “Taxi Driver”, Rupert is an outsider desperately wanting on the inside. Both are sad and pathetic eccentrics who refuse to be creatures of circumstance. They have pride and aspirations – misguided but genuine. Slowly both men mentally unravel and the question becomes how far will they go?
Both characters are played by Robert De Niro (at the time this was his fifth collaboration with Scorsese). Yet while similar in some areas, Rupert Pupkin has a uniqueness all his own. He doesn’t want power or to win the heart of a special lady. He simply wants to be a famous standup comic. He dupes his way into seeing late night talk show host and comedian Jerry Langford (played by Jerry Lewis) in hopes that it will lead to his big break. Rupert is given the old ‘contact my office’ brush off which he optimistically buys. Of course we know better.
A big chunk of the movie focuses on Rupert’s attempts to meet with Jerry. Some of the film’s best scenes take place in the lobby of Jerry’s office. Scorsese brings us back there several times as a persistent (and delusional) Rupert is repeatedly turned away by the receptionist and by Jerry’s secretary Cathy (played by a very good Shelley Hack). Each visit is a little kookier and slightly more uncomfortable than the previous one.
With each rejection Rupert becomes more unhinged and even more impulsive. Desperate, he seeks the help of fellow deranged stalker Masha (Sandra Bernhard). The two hatch an idiotic but well thought-out plan to satisfy both of their unique Jerry Langford obsessions. It’s here that the movie goes into some pretty weird directions but Scorsese keeps it all under control and unpredictable.
One thing that struck me is how the film keeps Rupert’s act hidden for most of its running time. His passion is unquestioned and his determination is limitless. But is he funny? Can he make people laugh? Scorsese eventually gets around to answering that question in a really fun way and it’s a perfect wrap up to this zany concoction.
When people talk about Martin Scorsese movies “The King of Comedy” often falls through the cracks. That’s a shame. It may not belong among the director’s best, but it certainly stands out for its uniqueness. It’s quirky, a bit bizarre actually, and that’s a big positive. DeNiro is a blast and offers up another example of why he and Scorsese are such a good team.
VERDICT – 4 STARS
I’ve never seen this either, and I forget Scorcese directed it to be honest. I’ll have to change that, I’d like to go through his entire filmography.
It’s a good one. I was surprised at how bizarre it is (in a really good way). Would love to read your take on it.
Ain’t this the picture with Cedric the Entertainer?
That would be a no.
Actually, that film is called The Kings of Comedy.
I finally saw this film last year on the day Jerry Lewis died which was a coincidence as it is an entertaining film as it is funny as well as intense showing what Scorsese can do in a genre that he’s not known for. Yet, I think he would perfect his approach to comedy with The Wolf of Wall Street which remains his funniest film to date as who couldn’t laugh at that Qualuudes scene?
While I’m no fan of Wolf, I do agree he has a knack for comedy. I truly think many people overlook Scorsese’s diversity when it comes to filmmaking.
Exactly. People often forget that he made a period drama in The Age of Innocence or a feminist drama in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore as they’re 2 films that are among some of his best work.
Yes! And a PG-rated children’s fantasy adventure in Hugo, religious epics, biopics, etc.
Let’s not forget a few documentaries as well. Say what you want about Scorsese. He’s always trying to do something different to keep himself fresh. Even if it doesn’t live up to certain expectations. A sub-par or a mediocre Scorsese film is still better than a lot of other films out there.
One of my favorite Scorsese movies! 🙂 Glad you enjoyed it for all it’s quirky craziness.
It’s a wacky movie, isn’t it? To be honest it caught me a bit off guard and I mean that in a very good way!
Nice review Keith; this is one of my favorites by Scorsese, and a great companion piece to Taxi Driver. Like Travis Bickle, Rupert Pupkin is a character who often alters between being a sympathetic, underdog loser and a sadistic, delusional madman. Plus that ending…
Exactly. The similarities are striking.
Great review Keith! Also saw this for a blind spot one year and it thought it to be a good one, too. Definitely a strange one, but I liked it.
Thanks so much! Fun movie for sure. Did some really unexpected things!
This one is a big hole in my Scorsese viewership. I need to correct this. A definite candidate for next year’s blind spot list if I don’t get to it sooner.
Definitely give it a whirl. It was a glaring hole for me as well. Not certain why I had let it slip by for so long.
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